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Difference between the philosophy of Sankara and Ramanuja

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  • Difference between the philosophy of Sankara and Ramanuja

    The difference between the philosophy of Sankara and Ramanuja is on the very nature of the Brahmam itself. While Sankara holds Brahmam to be> formless, Ramanuja and Madhva give it the form of Narayana and endow Him with special attributes called Kalyana Gunas. It is this ontological difference that separates the philosophies. While Sankara does not project a "form" (which is understandable, as his conception of Brahman is nirguna or formless), Ramanuja projects a form with attributes as his conception of Brahmam is Saguna (one endowed with kalyana gunas).*"
    adiyEn madhurakavi dAsan,
    Serangulam Kidambi Mukundhan


    This is an ageless question and eternal debate between the 2 principal schools of Vedanta. I have struggled all my life (without success so far, I admit) to reconcile the philosophical positions of Ramanuja and Sankara. The questions that I grapple with are:

    1. The Advaitin says Brahman is "formless" and "attributeless". Is not "formlessness" and "attributelessness" also some kind of "attribute" in itself? How does the Advaitin know Brahman is formless and attributeless? Even if he knew Brahman to be formless and attributeless, is such knowledge meaningful? Does this kind of philosophical reasoning shed any light at all on the human spiritual condition? In answer to such questions, the Advaitin will usually say he rests his case on some passages of the "sruti" and the "sruti" for him is irrefutable.

    2. The contra-Advaitin says Brahman is endowed with "supremely beauteous form" and "supremely auspicious atttributes". How does he know this? Has he experienced such a Brahman? He answers "No" but then he will say some "sruti" passages say so and he has evidence in the utterances of great mystical souls who attest to the existence of such a Brahman. And the "sruti" and those mystics can never be fallible.

    For oridinary mortals, both the positions of Advaitin and contra-Advaitin are utterly befuddling. The proof they are wont to offer in support of their respective positions will turn out usually to be, in the final analysis, mired in circular logic.

    For ordinary mortals, as far as I know, there is no way out of the dense and treacherous woods that invade both Advaitin and conra-Advaitin philosophical landscape. The only escape is Faith --- blind, steadfast personal faith in the personality of either Sankara or Ramanuja as "AchAryAs" of pre-eminence. They were towering intellects who probably had realized the truth (or truths) of what they spoke about respectively. They were also known to be kind, caring and honest souls who would never have wished to wilfully mislead their faithful followers. So perhaps they deserve the faith we choose to repose in them and in their philosophical precepts?

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